Illegal Adoptions in Ireland

May 30, 2018 | Illegal Adoptions in Ireland

51 Confirmed Illegal Adoptions in St Patrick’s Guild. An Independent review in 2019 establishes that there could be as many as 20,000 adoption records relating to the practice of illegal adoptions in Ireland.


According to a recent report by the government’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, the Irish State has known for decades about the practice of illegal adoptions.

These are situations where an institution* passes off a child as the natural child of two other individuals and they cause a new false birth certificate to be registered in the name of these individuals. By doing this they give the child a new identity and oftentimes, a new birth date. This has lifelong effects and many individuals affected have only found out in recent times that they are not the people they believed they were and that they have an entirely different identity and parentage.

This has all been compounded by poor practices by Tusla and their continued incorrect application of GDPR in denying individuals access to the records that may actually reveal their own true identities.

*St Patrick’s Guild has been established as one institution where this was commonplace. Other institutions include the private nursing home St Rita’s and St Monica’s. There were also some individuals involved. This included doctors and priests among others.

Tusla Investigation


Tusla, The National Child and Family Agency, have formed a team of social practitioners to investigate and act on the matter.

The matter has come to the fore currently as a result of publicity surrounding the alleged mismanagement of the registry from one of the adoption societies at the time, St Patrick’s Guild in conjunction with the Sisters of Charity religious order, where only a section on the index cards was indicative of adoption at birth.

In addition, it was recently revealed by RTE investigates that ten individuals (nine of which are unidentified) had their personal files from St Patrick’s Guild handed over to An Gardai Siochana.

The programme was able to reveal that only one of these individuals was told recently about this and that no consent was sought from them to do so. Furthermore, it was revealed that Tusla never even contacted the people to tell them whether or not a prosecution of those involved in their illegal adoption would take place.

Norman Spicer RTE interview Coleman Legal

Senior Solicitor Norman Spicer comments on the programme about this shambolic treatment.

Investigation into St. Patrick’s Guild Adoption Files from 1946 to 1959


The investigation is carried on files dating as far as 1946 up to 1959 whereby there is no adoption records before the adoption authority, of these 126 cases more than half have been unaware of their true birth circumstances.

It is now created an atmosphere of uncertainty amongst adoption agencies in the country, which will be now due to be investigated by the dedicated teams to establish whether the illegal practice of adoptive registries happened elsewhere.

  • Minister for Justice Charlie Flannagan commented “it is highly likely” that other adoptive agencies have engaged in illegal adoption practices and said “I would find extraordinary if only one agency was engaged in these practices.
  • The Adoption Rights Alliance states: “These are not ‘incorrect registrations’, they’re illegal adoptions. Describing them as such as providing a loophole for those private adoption facilitators.” This process will be overseen and quality-assured by an Independent Reviewer, Ms Marion Reynolds, who is a former Deputy Director of Social Services in Northern Ireland.

Investigation into History of Illegal Adoptions in Ireland


The issue of illegal adoptions in Ireland has again come to the fore following the publication of the report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes in January.

Previously in 2018, the Government had promised to take action in the cases of 126 babies who were illegally registered on their birth certificates as if they were the natural children of their adoptive parents. On Wednesday the 3rd of March RTE broadcast, RTE Investigates Ireland’s Illegal Adoptions.

The documentary reported on the history of illegal adoptions in Ireland and those that facilitated the practice. The programme featured interviews with numerous people who had only become aware of the circumstances of their illegal adoptions in recent years.

It was the transferring of files to TUSLA from St Patrick’s Guild Catholic Adoption Society, which had been run by the Religious Sisters of Charity, that brought to light the extent of the illegal adoptions. TUSLA contacted those that had been illegally adopted. Some of the people contacted were not even aware that they were not the biological children of their parents and many were advanced in years when they became aware.

Among these people was Brian Webster who received a letter from TUSLA on the cusp of his 60th birthday. In speaking to RTE Investigates Brian told how prior to receiving the letter he was unaware he had been adopted.

  • Irish children were not just illegally provided to Irish families there were also provided to families in the United States. In June 1954, the American Embassy in Dublin brought to the attention of the Irish Authorities what is believed to be criminal activities involving the falsification of birth records. Numerous American women had claimed to have given birth in Dublin and sought to have their babies added to their passports. The practice of placing Irish babies abroad was made illegal by the 1952 Adoption Act.
  • The 1952 Adoption Act had also made it illegal for an agency to receive money for anything other than the maintenance of the children in its care. However, following on from documents seen by the RTE Investigates team it appears that some women were charged for the care of their babies despite the (illegal) adoption has already taken place. One such case was that of Neil Dargan, who spoke to RTE Investigates, he had been illegally adopted within 10 days of his birth however, his birth mother paid the fee for her son’s maintenance to St Patrick’s Guild for a further three months at their insistence.
  • In the course of its research, RTE Investigates discovered that numerous powerful and prominent members of Irish society had been involved in the facilitating of illegal adoptions. These individuals included Professor Eamonn de Valera Jr who was at the time a Consultant Gynaecologist at Holles St National Maternity Hospital. Professor de Valera in some cases even set up antenatal appointments for women who were not pregnant to facilitate illegal adoptions. This was being done almost a decade after the 1952 Adoption Act.
  • Many of the people that have been contacted by TUSLA have attempted to obtain information regarding their births and subsequent adoptions. However, the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU has greatly frustrated their attempts despite the Regulation being created to protect and give access to personal data. GDPR is being given as a reason as to why the information cannot be shared. Dr. Maeve O’ Rourke speaking to RTE Investigates stated “There’s no justification for telling somebody that they are adopted, then turning around and saying I can tell you that, but I can’t tell you who you are. That is not the proper interpretation of GDPR, we have not seen where that is coming from”.

In a statement to RTE Investigates, TUSLA said the legislation as it stands in Ireland ,only permits it “to share personal information with those affected that relates directly to them”. Assurances have been given by Roderic O’ Gorman the current Minster for Children that legislation “to allow access to birth information, including birth certificates, be prepared by end March/early April”.

To speak with one of our illegal adoption in ireland solicitors, call (Free Phone) 1800 844 104 or complete our online enquiry form.

Clodagh Magennis

Clodagh Magennis

Head of Client Services

(01) 531 3800
[email protected]

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